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Authors: Charlotte MacLeod

The Balloon Man

BOOK: The Balloon Man
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The Curse of the Giant Hogweed

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Copyright

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 1998 by Charlotte MacLeod

All rights reserved.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

First eBook Edition: December 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2167-4

For Alexandria
My dear sister and dear friend

Contents

Other books by Charlotte MacLeod

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

1

“I had the damnedest dream last night.”

Max Bittersohn, art expert par excellence and scourge of the international art underworld, felt around with his bare right
foot for his right-foot slipper. Of course he got the wrong one.

“What the hell? Sarah, would you mind counting my toes for me?”

“Why, dear?”

“To see how many feet I've got.”

Sarah Kelling Kelling Bittersohn had been married to Max long enough to know that early morning was not his best time. With
a big family wedding only hours away, time was becoming of the essence, if it already wasn't, but there would be no earthly
use in trying to prod him into action before he'd had his second cup of coffee. She fished the errant slipper out from under
the conjugal bed, hung it on her husband's left; big toe, and poured a cup of the life-
giving beverage from the carafe she had brought up from the kitchen.

“What did you dream, darling?”

“As far as I can recall, it was something about a goon squad of purple cockatoos in green velvet combat boots, shooting dried
peas at me through bright pink peashooters.”

“Aha, the Freudian element rears its outmoded head. No doubt the wedding inspired that vulgar image. But why pink, and why
peashooters?”

“Why not?” Max had finally grasped the logistics of matching toes to slippers; he stuck out his footwork for Sarah to admire.
“My guess is that the cockatoos had run out of blowpipes and were having to improvise.”

“But why were they shooting peas at you? Beans would be more effective, I should think. Did it sting when they hit?”

“Nah, they always missed. How come you've got so many clothes on?”

“Because I had to get out at the crack of dawn and show the tent raisers where to raise the tents.”

That got Max moving. Summoning all his energy, he reached for the cup. “Why the hell didn't you wake me up? I'd have raised
them for you.”

“Not to put it too crudely, my love, I'll bet you any sum up to a Kennedy half-dollar that I know a lot more than you do about
putting up tents. Aunt Emma had me fully
trained in the art of tent raising by the time I was twelve years old”

Max put on his most truculent sneer. “Don't hand me that nonsense, kiddo. You've never raised a tent in your life.”

“Of course I haven't,” Sarah replied sweetly. “We Kellings do not raise tents; we merely stand around harassing the tent raisers
into doing precisely what we want them to do, as opposed to letting them do what they foolishly imagine we re going to let
them get away with.”

“I could at least have helped you with the nagging and harassing,” Max insisted.

“No, dear, you couldn't. Talents like Aunt Emma's and mine are either bred in the bone or they aren't. I'm sorry to tell you
this, Max, but you just don't have what it takes to terrorize a tent raiser. You lack the steely stare in your eyes and the
je ne sais quoi in the tightening of your lips, just so much and not a millimeter more. Or less, depending on the circumstances.
I'd better warn you right now that many a professional tent raiser has arrived on the job in the prime of health and vigor,
only to stagger and collapse once he's felt the laserlike glint of the Kelling eyeball.”

Max studied his wife with sleepy satisfaction. Kellings came in two sizes, long and short; Sarah was a pleasing example of
the latter variety, with baby fine brown hair and greenish hazel eyes set in her small, squarish face. Her naturally pale
complexion was pink with exertion and excitement, and the jeans and shirt she had assumed in order to bully the tent makers
set off a nicely shaped figure.

Quite a contrast to the white-faced little creature he'd first beheld on a television newscast, shivering in front of the
Kelling family vault on Beacon Hill, where a particularly inappropriate set of remains had just been discovered. That same
night Max had met her in person, swathed in something warm and fuzzy and blue, and made the dreadful mistake of assuming she
was Alexander Kelling's daughter instead of his wife.

After that Max had somehow or other happened to run into the younger Mrs. Kelling every so often, trying to think of her as
a nice woman who lived on the Hill with her autocratic blind and deaf mother-in-law and her handsome, elderly husband. The
fact that Max had been born and brought up on the North Shore, where the Kelling family had a rambling old summer place, made
these happenings look a little more plausible.

He'd been visiting his parents the day the Kellings' vintage Milburn, which had been for so long one of the North Shore's
most picturesque sights, had gone over the cliffs with Alexander and his mother inside. Knowing Sarah would be alone and in
a state of shock, he'd hung around his brother-in-law's garage, hoping she would stop for gas on her way back to Boston. She
had. Max had offered her a ride back to Beacon Hill; she'd cried all the way and looked like hell by the time they got there.
That was when Max Bittersohn realized he'd been in love with Sarah Kelling ever since that otherwise abominable night at the
Lackridges'.

Gradually he'd promoted himself to acting knight errant, telling himself that he was'nt making a nuisance of himself, just
trying to help a sorrowing widow over a rough time; knowing all the time that he was lying his head off and wishing to hell
she'd walk into his arms, murmuring, “Take me, Max, I'm yours if you want me.” It had taken longer than he would have liked,
but now, by God, she was his and he was hers, and Davy, the world's most intelligent child, was three years old.

“Did it work?” he asked.

“How can you ask? Though I must admit,” Sarah admitted, “I've never seen such a bunch of incompetents as this crew. They didn't
seem to know a tent peg from a parasol. However, thanks to Aunt Emma's expert coaching, I had that whole tent-raising crew
groveling at my feet in four minutes and thirteen seconds this morning. Aunt Emma could have had them all straightened out
and flying right in half that time, but of course she's had all those extra years of practice. Speaking of Aunt Emma, you
might give some thought to getting dressed. Some of the guests will probably arrive early, in typical Kelling fashion, and
there's a great deal to be done.”

“Do you have to remind me?” Max growled. “Where's Davy?”

“Right out there on the seaward deck, fishing for cardboard minnows. See him? He's planning to send the minnows home to their
mothers when it gets to be nap time. And you, my love, are detailed to drive him over to Mrs.
Blufert's. She'll keep him with her until after the wedding service.”

Max hadn't been overly pleased to hear that his son wasn't going to be in the wedding party. “Why can't he stay here with
us?”

“Darling, you ought to know what a distraction even one small child can be at a big family gathering,” Sarah argued. “Davy
has better manners than most three-year-olds, I'm happy to say, but a girl likes her wedding day to go perfectly. Tracy is
a darling, and deserves the best.”

“She is that,” Max agreed. “I don't know how my nephew managed to snare her.”

“Mike is a darling, too,” said Mike's aunt by marriage. “Miriam has everything arranged to a fare-thee-well, so we'd better
leave it to her.”

Miriam Rivkin, Max's only sibling, was a happy mother today. Here was her son with a brand-new degree in engineering, and
there was a wisp of a girl named Tracy all ready to put on a wedding gown into which Miriam had sewn a blessing with every
stitch. And here pretty soon would come Mother Bittersohn to watch her greatest dream come true.

Max's mother had wanted a second daughter ever since her Miriam had proved to be such a jewel. She'd got a boy instead. She'd
accepted him with relatively good grace and planned for him to become a wealthy podiatrist with an office not far from his
parents' home. Unfortunately, Max wasn't attracted to feet. Eventually she'd had to face the fact
that there was no way her boy would ever quit racketing around the globe in pursuit of other people's stolen property. She'd
hoped he'd marry a nice Jewish girl; he'd married a member of the Codfish Aristocracy and sired a son who was already showing
ominous signs that he'd turn out to be the spit and image of his father. But what could you do! as Mother Bittersohn herself
often said.

Mrs. Blufert, Sarah's part-time housekeeper and babysitter, had two grandchildren of her own visiting for the day; they knew
and liked Davy. The three would play for a while, eat a simple lunch, take their naps, and play a little longer. Then Mrs.
Blufert would dress Davy in a clean suit, if he still had one by then, and send him home fresh and rested so that Sarah and
Max could show their guests what a clever son they'd managed to bring forth now they'd got the knack.

“What's on my agenda besides Davy and the minnows?” Max wanted to know.

“Shave, shower, get dressed, deliver Davy, come back, and be ready to leap into any last-minute breaches that may open up.
There are sure to be some. Make sure you put on your light gray suit instead of the dark one and stand around looking elegant
and suave when you have nothing else to do. Think you can handle all that?”

“I'll work on it. Any more coffee kicking around?”

“Need you ask?”

Sarah refilled Max's cup, peeked out the window to
make sure Davy hadn't fallen into the minnow bucket, and treated herself to a sip of her husband's coffee.

“We'd better not drink too much of this,” she warned. “You're jittery enough already.”

“Who, me?” said Max. “What do you think, kätzele? Is it going to work?”

“Oh, I expect so, Tracy's people have sent some lovely presents, but I don't suppose many of the senders will show up in person.
Most of them seem to be wrapped up in their jobs and their divorces. Her wretched old father didn't even respond to the invitation.
I gather he's hot on the trail of wife number five. At least Tracy's mother is here. Her name's Jeanne, in case you've forgotten;
Miriam says she stayed up half the night making knishes for the buffet. I think that's rather sweet, don't you? Perhaps it
made Jeanne feel like a member of the family, poor soul. She's gone all to pieces since Tracy's father filed for divorce.
Though why any woman would want to stay married to a selfish woman-chasing pickle manufacturer is beyond my comprehension.”

“His millions might have something to do with it,” Max suggested.

“That's what they're fighting about, I believe,” Sarah admitted. “He doesn't want to give her a cent, and she's holding out
for lots of alimony. Goodness knows that family hasn't much in the way of family feeling. Tracy's stepbrother claims he has
to stay in his laboratory and tend his fruit flies. I hope they bite him. Tracy's such a darling; does
it strike you that she's almost as much in love with Miriam and Ira as she is with Mike?”

“So? Is that bad?” Max wandered over to the window.

“Of course not. Its wonderful,” said Sarah. “But I must get back downstairs. Brooks and Theonia will be along pretty soon
with four dozen chocolate tortes which need to be refrigerated until it's time to set the dessert tables. Uncle Jem's coming
with them if Egbert can haul him out of bed and get him dressed in time.”

BOOK: The Balloon Man
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